The Winner Effect: How Success Affects Brain Chemistry?

Curious to understand "the winner effect." Here you’ll know how success affects brain chemistry and the changes that you experience in yourself after winning!

If you think about evolution, one of the concepts that will first come to your mind is "survival of the fittest." We know that we have to adapt to the changes in the environment and can't lose if we want to survive. From the beginning, we are taught to be the winner if we want to survive.

But did you ever think about why you have to win to survive? How does victory affect your brain and give you the confidence to face everything in life? Continue reading to understand the winning effect in detail!

What Is The Winner Effect?

In biology, "the winner effect" is defined as a phenomenon or feeling that a person feels when he/she wins something against an opponent. Animals also feel the winner effect, but their win is only limited to the physical battle. In contrast, humans can beat others recreationally, educationally, and physically, so they have multiple scenarios to experience the feeling they get after winning.

Testosterone and The Winner Effect

Testosterone, along with dopamine, plays an important in the winner effect. It's a hormone released before and during the competition (1). When the competition starts, all the competitors will have a sharp increase in their testosterone levels. But after the competition is over, only the winners will have high testosterone, while the testosterone levels of losers fall. The falling testosterone in losers is also named "the loser effect."

Testosterone is linked to aggression and violence, but it can also induce protective behaviors for loved ones and close friends. Here is what Po Bronson said about testosterone in an interview:

Collaboration and competition are the same hormone: testosterone. There’s no such thing as collaborating without competition in the real world. To compete does not mean to cheat or break the rules, it means to go head-to-head and be better than your opponent. Certainly, inside a corporation people need to collaborate for the corporation to be competitive.

How Success Affect Brain Chemistry?

When you win (2), changes in your brain make you smarter and more confident for your future challenges. The confidence you get by winning allows you to overcome even harder challenges that might seem difficult if you haven't won. Whether you're in competition or not, your brain is continuously assessing your ability, strength, and status compared to others. It then prepares you to fight against an opponent or win a competition by altering your intelligence and behavior in a way to keep you safe.

When you have back-to-back wins, your brain changes to make you smarter to maintain the position. Without these positive changes in your brain, you won't be able to maintain the position for a long time because over-confidence will not allow you to deal with situations practically, and you'll lose.

Are the Results of The Winner Effect Always Positive?

No, the results of the winner effect (3) aren't always positive. When you win twice, your brain has such a strong winner effect that you'll not think anything before doing that thing the third time.

Failure introduces you to the ground realities and your weakness and helps improve your behavior and personality for future challenges. In contrast, winning can make you over-confident so you won't prepare yourself for the changed circumstances. Your opponents might become stronger and smarter, but you won't be able to handle the situation accordingly due to your over-confidence.

How Can You Use This Effect for Your Advantage?

You can use this effect to your advantage by assessing the situation in detail. Don't generalize your previous winning experiences for the second time because the first time might be luck, but the second time will be stupidity because many factors might have changed. So, you should respond to each situation after considering all the factors related to it, not your previous experience.

For example, if a hunter has encountered a bear and killed it successfully for the first time, it doesn’t mean he will be lucky the second time too. The second bear might be more powerful than the first one and not easy to be trapped. Unless he feels himself brilliant in fighting and killing a bear, he shouldn't attempt to do this based on this experience.

It’ll be wise to assess a new situation separately, all the factors, and then decide your move accordingly. Your past experiences should make you wise enough to avoid scenarios that are different from your past.


The winner effect explains how your brain makes you smart and confident when you win. As a result of winning, changes occur in your brain, including hormonal changes too. Make sure not to make stupid decisions due to your over-confidence in winning in the past. Assess each situation from the start, and decide after considering all the new and different factors from your past winning experience!